Workplace drug and alcohol testing

16 April 2019

Employers may have multiple reasons to implement drug and alcohol testing within their business.

With widespread access to drugs and alcohol, there are even more instances of substance abuse being found in the workplace. Working under the influence of intoxicants affects more than just the person in question.

Their state could lead to a risk of accidents, putting themselves in danger as well as others. And the repercussions could mean you face tribunal claims, compensation fees, and possible business disruption.

This guide outlines the rules around workplace drug and alcohol testing in Ireland, and the legal methods needed when dealing with workers under the influence of intoxicants.

What is drug and alcohol testing in the workplace?

Drug and alcohol testing is done when you want to manage incidents of intoxication influence at work. Testing can only be done if it’s written in your workplace drug and alcohol policy.

Occasionally, employers may suspect an employee at work is under the influence of intoxicants. Under your duty of care, you must deal with drug and alcohol misuse and its implications.

Through policies that outline testing for alcohol and drugs, you can provide support to your staff. Like giving out necessary medical treatment instead of disciplinary sanctions.

Why do we need testing?

Drug and alcohol testing in the workplace isn’t legally mandatory. But employers do have a duty to create a safe working environment.

There are major laws that outline the rules on alcohol testing, as well as workplace drug testing. In Ireland, it falls under the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005. The act defines ‘intoxicant substances’ as:

  • Drugs.
  • Alcohol.
  • Prescribed medicine.
  • Non-prescribed drugs.

Taking drugs and/or drinking alcohol can cause excessive problems like:

  • Greater absenteeism.
  • Poor work performance.
  • Work-related accidents.
  • Damage to your business.
  • Compensation claims and penalties.
  • Prosecutions and court hearings.

Dealing with workers under the influence of intoxication

Employees under the influence of alcohol or drugs can pose serious risk to others. Once you’re made aware, you must take steps to remove them.

Failing this means facing potential liability and financial penalties. The HSE’s Information Sheet on Intoxicants at Work outlines methods to take when you suspect a worker is intoxicated:

  • Do not allow them to start/continue any work.
  • Send them home if necessary (organise transport and don’t let them drive).
  • Deal with recurring offenders (through serious disciplinary consequences).

Under the Employment Equality Act, alcoholism is classed as a disability; drug addiction is treated similarly.

Therefore, it’s vital you encourage workers to get professional help and give them reasonable time to recover.

Laws on drug and alcohol testing in the workplace

Laws on alcohol testing, as with drug testing in the workplace, can cause huge controversy. Not to mention privacy issues and human rights conflicts.

The Employment Equality Act allows you to introduce intoxicant testing in the workplace. But you legally can’t force staff to undergo mandatory workplace drug testing or alcohol consumption exams.

Testing can only be conducted if stated in employment contracts or workplace policies. And if workers legally agree to them, it must be done within reasonable boundaries.

There are some circumstances where mandatory alcohol and drug testing must be carried out at work. For example, when jobs have critical safety risks (like vehicle drivers, machine operators, etc.).

There are different tests that monitor levels of intoxication:

  • Testing alcohol levels can be done through workplace breathalysers.
  • Work vehicles can be fitted with alco-locks systems (which are mandatory in some EU countries).
  • Drug testing can be done through screenings and urine samples (but must be conducted by medical professionals).

Policies on workplace drug and alcohol testing

It’s unlikely that blanket policies for drug and alcohol testing in the workplace will be reasonable or proportionate.

Instead, explain your reasons for mandatory alcohol and drug testing procedures in the workplace, through contracts and policies. And make sure your workers understand how testing will be conducted.

The European Laboratory Guidelines for Legally Defensible Workplace Drug Testing outlines what to include in a testing policy:

  • Specifics on alcohol and drug levels that breach rules.
  • Explanation of health risks.
  • Past records of accidents and near-misses.
  • Strict rules for data protection.
  • Management for random selection for testing.
  • Sufficient control procedures during testing (only done by a qualified employee or a professional consultant).
  • Disciplinary and dismissal procedures for repeat offenders.
  • Further testing guidance and additional information.

Peninsula Ireland provides expert support info on alcohol and drug testing

Businesses should clearly communicate zero-tolerance for alcohol and drug use. Random testing in the workplace should always be done in a systematic way rather than after individual incidents. That way you can avoid ostracising and discriminating against workers.

Explain to employees that your testing policy protects them from future harm. And remind them that everyone’s safety is important and should never be compromised, in any manner.

Peninsula Ireland can offer expert information and support on introducing alcohol and drug testing to your business. We also provide an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) with information on behaviour policies and employee wellbeing management.

Peninsula Ireland clients get access to 24/7 HR consultation with our employment specialists. Even if you’re not yet a client, you can still enjoy free advice from one of our business experts. Simply call us on 0818 923 923.

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